Qatar Rightly Beat US to Hosting 2022 World Cup

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/03/2010 12:03:00 AM
It seems that, in the world of football at least, we have some sort of sporting affirmative action going on when it comes to choosing host nations for the world's most viewed sporting event. Unless you have no interest in sport whatsoever, you are probably well aware that Russia won the rights to hosting the 2018 event, beating the mighty UK. Perhaps an even more impressive feat was tiny Qatar, population 1.3 million, beating both the US and Australia for 2022 bragging rights. Let's just say that politicking at these sporting associations is very interesting--think of the International Olympic Committee or the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (F1 and the World Rally Championship's governing body). Even by their standards, however, FIFA is well nigh inscrutable. BBC Panorama (the UK's investigative reporting show) had an elaborate feature on alleged bribery and corruption at FIFA that many blame for the UK ultimately winning...2 out 22 votes and getting booted out of the first round.

Which brings me to an important point: whereas the likes of the World Bank and IMF (among others) may favour the US or the EU as a function of their political-economic clout, this doesn't necessarily follow at FIFA. Indeed, by "rational" standards, there is utterly no reason to choose Russia over the UK. The latter has far better existing transportation, accommodation, and stadium facilities. The English Premier League should also count for something, no? The former will have to deliver on these fields of dreams--if you build them, they will come in 2018. Unsurprisingly, however, I was pleased with this result since I typically root for the underdog and would welcome variety since London will host the 2012 Olympics anyway. We need variety in international event hosts, right?

I was thus doubly amused reading an op-ed front and centre on the Yahoo! front page slamming FIFA for its even more inscrutable decision to select Qatar over the US and Australia. Lots more of this thing in the US media. Americans rightly point out that they successfully hosted the 1994 World Cup--a snoozer in some respects but that's not the host's fault--but well organized nonetheless. Still, it looks like A Bunch of Whiny Caucasian Americans Who (Claim to) Watch Soccer Complaining About the Unfairness of International Organization. Just desserts, I say. The UK thought they could sway the decision by sending PM David Cameron, Prince William, and the traitorous chav David Beckham to boot to Zurich. All for naught--or more precisely, 2 out of 22 votes. The US did its bit by sending Slick Willie but also got nothing to show. So much for "star power." I thought Australia had similar infrastructure advantages as the US but without the baggage of being America and having hosted the event in the last two decades, but no dice. Qatar, meanwhile, had Zinedine Zidane as a hired gun (plus Gabriel "Batigol" Batistuta and Barcelona FC Coach Pep Guardiola, and . They paid him a winner's fee of $15 million, but you can it was worth it insofar as the mission was accomplished.

What we have, then, is the US utterly outmanoeuvred in the unfamiliar political landscape of world football. If the US soccer team at best is a minor power, Qatar is ranked 113th in the world and wouldn't have qualified for the titular event for a long, long time. And the negatives for Qatar are not limited to that as the critics keep whingeing. Add a scorching summer averaging over 100 deg Fahrenheit and hence the need to prepare twelve air-conditioned venues. However, look on the bright side:
  • Given the purported money drain that the World Cup is (but why would the US be back to bidding on an event it last hosted when Slick Willie was president?), cash-strapped America should be happy to let the moneybags Qataris waste their money;
  • If the Qataris want an even bigger vanity project than owning the world's most famous department store, then give it to them--it's for those who want to prove they've arrived on the world scene;
  • After FIFA courting the African market, why not the Middle Eastern market as well?;
  • Sepp Blatter has a history of bringing the World Cup to new places, and doesn't Qatar qualify?
In its own inexplicable FIFA-esque way, it all makes perfect sense: expressed in dollars and cents, pounds, shilling, and pence. The College of Cardinals choosing the Pope has nothing on the FIFA Executive Committee selecting World Cup hosts. And you can take that to the bank. Corruption? Sour grapes, I say. How badly do you want it, anyway? It's power politics in sport at its most barefaced.

Sepp baby, here's a hint: in 2026, think "Southeast Asia"!